"At 10,500 rpm, a siren-song comes shrieking out of the engine and muffler, and this music is the most captivating sound west of an MV Agusta 750." – Cycle magazine, March 1975
High praise indeed. But as American motorcycle buyers have proven time and again, what works for a magazine test rider doesn't always sell on the showroom floor.
Take this motorcycle, for instance. In 1973, following the introduction of its CB750 and CB500 four-cylinder models, Honda decided to miniaturize the concept with the CB350 Four, one of the smallest production four-cylinder motorcycles ever imported to the U.S.
Unfortunately, the CB350F lacked focus. It was a brilliant four-cylinder technical exercise, but heavy, expensive and no faster than the company's own 350cc twin.
So for 1975, the CB350F became the CB400F Super Sport, with a displacement boost to 408cc.
But the changes went much deeper than that. While the 350 looked like a smaller CB750, the 400 had minimalist, cafe-racer looks, with low, narrow bars for its day, a six-speed transmission and a red zone that started at 10,000 rpm. Instead of the 350s muted colors, the 400 came in bold red or blue. And it came with one of the first four-into-one exhaust systems Honda ever offered.
The 400F didn't own the small-displacement performance title in the mid-70s Yamahas two-stroke RD350 could still show Hondas four-stroke its taillight at the strip. But the 400 was in the hunt.
Still, none of that was enough to make the 400 a sales success. Although widely admired, and collectible to this day, the 400F only remained in Hondas lineup for three years. The small sportbike class, popular overseas, has never caught on in the States. Honda learned that lesson again in 1989 and 90 with the technically brilliant, but equally short-lived, CB-1, an updated 400 Four.
This CB400F, previously on loan to the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in Pickerington, Ohio, from owners John W. Pieplow and Richard Hoffman, is in original running condition, showing only 1,022 miles on the odometer.
"We're looking forward to getting it back so we can ride it again," says Hoffman. "We're still just a bunch of kids."